Danielle's Reviews > The Eyre Affair

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
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Mar 01, 2008

did not like it
bookshelves: did-not-finish

I've been storing up some venom for this review, so be prepared.
First of all, I want to unleash my fury on whoever in the Rory Gilmore Book Club suggested this book as February's pick. To go from such a brilliant read as Jane Eyre to this was frustrating to say the least. It highlighted all the amateurish contrivances of Fforde's writing. I rolled my eyes so many times in the first four chapters, that I nearly gave myself a headache. And no, I'm sure it doesn't get better after that, that's just where I officially banished the book from my sight.
Here are my major problems with the part I read.
1. Okay, you're enterting this alternate reality world where many things are similar but different from what we know. As Fforde might assume that not all of his readers would be British, or familiar with UK current events/history, perhaps he could have given us a little more to go on, so that the reader could appreciate the weirdness of this other world, without going, "Umm...from the way that's said, I'm assuming that's not how it happened in real life."
2. Thursday Next. Seriously? Thursday Next. That just screams: "I'm writing a strong yet lovably flawed female gumshoe destined to drag you through book after book of literary-themed exploits." Her character was so stereotypical I could have written it with my eyes closed.
3. The time-travelling father.
4. If a book is written in first-person, and you really, REALLY want us to know what the character looks like, it is textbook cliche to have her pull out a mirror and describe what she sees. Puh-lease.
5. Finally, the clincher at the end of chapter four (I think. I wasn't paying all THAT much attention), but the straw that made me put away the book for good is that Fforde CLEVERLY (I felt like the whole of the book was trying just a little too hard to be clever) had Thursday narrate what had happened in her confrontation with her nemesis by putting her in an interrogation setting, where she has to tell the police investigators (and us, conveniently) what happened prior to her month-long coma. Okay, that in and of itself is not so bad, what kills me is when the only difference between what she says into the tape recorder and what she says in her narration of any other part of the book is the double quotation marks. Seriously, no one answers an investigator's question of, "So what happened next," by saying, "'What do you think you're doing?' I said. 'It's time for me to make my exit,' he answered with a smile." People write books like that. They don't talk like that. It was ridiculous.
Anyway, I guess I wouldn't be so annoyed with this book, except that it's supposed to be "delightful" for bibliophiles because it assumes all this familiarity with the classics, yet anyone who had read said classics would inevitably chafe under the obvious inferiority of this freshman attempt.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
February 1, 2008 – Finished Reading
March 1, 2008 – Shelved
March 1, 2008 – Shelved as: did-not-finish

Comments (showing 1-45 of 45) (45 new)

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Rachael While I disagree with your overall characterization of the novel, you raise some interesting and valid criticisms, particularly your fifth point and the larger issue that Fforde isn't writing great literature. His language and style certainly isn't on par with his source materials, but that isn't really his purpose so I don't hold it against him. Your fourth point highlights, I think, one of the reasons why I liked the novel and you did not. I appreciated that Fforde has Thursday Next describe herself while looking in the mirror because Bronte has Jane Eyre describe herself while looking in a mirror. It isn't mindless use of a cliche when it is purposeful homage to a specific work of literature, which is part of the point of the Thursday Next series.

Danielle Okay, fine, I actually didn't remember that happening in Jane Eyre, so we won't hate him so terribly for doing it. Although, I am positive Bronte did it a million times more skillfully. And, I agree, he was trying more to honor literature than imitate it, but I guess my point is, why waste time with something inferior, when there's so much else out there really worth reading?

Elizabeth "As Fforde might assume that not all of his readers would be British, or familiar with UK current events/history, perhaps he could have given us a little more to go on"

I'm not sure that's a good idea- why should it be the author's job to write a book for a mass audience? Most people don't read books just to have what they already know reaffirmed. In the age of the internet and libraries and mass-research, do you really need everything handed to you in the book? You didn't like the book so much, that it seems like if Fforde HAD explained the current-references, you'd be livid that he'd dumbed-down the events, or that he'd had the hubris to assume there would be an international readership.

(A teeny-tiny version of that happened when the US editions of the Harry Potter books had to be de-"crisps"-ified because American kids couldn't handle British slang.) I'm pretty sure that books are supposed to make us want to go look up things we don't understand, rather than rage that they weren't digested for us.

message 4: by Tim (new)

Tim I happened upon your review, because I have had this series recommended to me by several people I admire. This certainly deflated me a bit. I don't understand, at all, your quibble about the author not explaining to the reader all the references-- Isn't that insulting a reader's intelligence? Just because you don't "get" something doesn't mean everybody else doesn't, and to me, those explanations would feel force-fed. (I recall a scene in Jurassic Park where scientists explained DNA to one another.) But some of your other points seem quite valid and would probably have annoyed me, as well. Oh, well-- another dream of literary bliss dashed.
Please Forgive this comment from a person you don't know. But I guess that's part of what this site is all about.

Danielle In response to Tim and Elizabeth, this was not reasonably expectable common-knowledge kind of stuff. Should I really know what happened with the Crimean War? I wouldn't have cared at all, except it was obvious Fforde was trying to create a world for the reader where everything was slightly off-kilter. You know, history happened CLOSE to like we remember, only a little different. My point is that the reader (and I'm positive I'm not alone in this) can't appreciate that world if they don't understand what those differences are. No, he didn't need to put obvious exposition into conversations a la Michael Crichton, but a few more clues would have served his purpose more effectively.
Incidentally, good writers do this kind of thing all the time without making the book feel "dumbed down." I guess I shouldn't have been expecting anything I good writer would do from Fforde.

Karla Wow. With all the truly horrible things that go on in this world, you've chosen to store up and spew out your "venom" on something as relatively innocuous as this book? Really?
First, I don't see any evidence of you having much of a sense of humor. Or maybe you do, and this is not your type of humor. Why not just chalk it up to "not your cup of tea" and be done with it? Why all the anger?
Second, to make one small specific comment, I think you are missing the point of the Crimean war as an element of the story. The point is not whether we know anything about the Crimean war or even if it actually happened, the point is that it has gone on *for 130 years*. The ridiculousness of a 130-year-war that the government self-perpetuates is where the humor lies.
There's no need to insult an author, and the MANY readers that appreciate his type of writing, just because you don't care for that particular style. My advice is to find a more worthy target for your considerable anger -- maybe child abuse, animal cruelty or the treatment of the poor. Those issues could use some venom.

message 7: by Tara (last edited Jun 23, 2008 12:36PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Tara I'm clapping my hands at you over the internet. Couldn't agree more.

To me, the plot and storyline of this book had so much potential, but it just fell flat for me. It was supposed to be lovable and cheesy at times, with a dash of charmingly nerdy.

The tale was poorly executed. I ran out of steam very quickly, which saddened me; I wanted to like this.

message 8: by Brian (new)

Brian Ah, missed the point of a fabulously tongue-in-cheek romp. OF COURSE it isn't fine literature, but the humor is that it is playing around with literature, adventure, and puns not trying to be fine literature.

Jami Dwyer thank you! i gave up on this book after a few pages. i love the premise, but the writing just seemed... clunky. i wondered if i should give it another chance. i think i won't.

message 10: by Mila (last edited Jul 25, 2008 04:16PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mila I think you judge the book way to early -- you simply cannot compare Fforde's Eyre Affair with the Jane Eyre. It is not meant to be a Jane Eyre. It is meant to be a fantasy story.
The book is actually a fun read and tons of laugh - with references to other literary works and topsy turvy world events and items.
You should at least give credit to Fforde for his creativity in creating the story and combining all the different elements in the book's world (remember, not our world - it's fantasy)
And honestly... there's nothing wrong with 'Thursday Next' -- real people (in our world) has named their kids worse than that.
Lighten up!

Baumi Baumeister I'm not saying this book is great, but you seem to have missed quite a bit of the references. E.g. the the interrogation scene actually mimics Bronte's style in Jane Eyre - there are several passages l in that novel (mainly in the last few chapters, I think) where characters tell events in exactly that "written-sounding" way.

Samantha OK - quick comment. Everybody gets their own opinion on the book but I'm afraid you can't dismiss the Crimea. Its a significant event and its filled our history with people like Florence Nightingale and of course "The Grand Old Duke of York". If you don't know this part of english history then fine but you can't berate the author because he does! That's like getting angry at Georgette Heyer for writing about the Regency Period - it just doesn't make any sense!

karenology I've only just started this book and am not sure how I feel about it yet, might end up agreeing with you. But this point in your review struck me as really odd:

"Thursday Next. That just screams: "I'm writing a strong yet lovably flawed female gumshoe destined to drag you through book after book of literary-themed exploits." Her character was so stereotypical I could have written it with my eyes closed. "

Say what? Doesn't a character type have to, uh, show up a lot in media to be a stereotype? Maybe I am just reading the wrong books but I don't think I've come across "the lady literature detective" before this!

message 14: by Becky (new) - rated it 1 star

Becky Schneider Just randomly popping in to record my amusement that you stopped reading this book at exactly the same point as I did for exactly the same reason.

Danielle Yay! Thank you, Becky. I hope you take the negative responses to my post pesonally, since you and I are both unenlightened, apparently.

Mirian In all fairness, I have only gotten to the point where you gave up. However, the Eyre Affair is not meant for comparison with Jane Eyre.

I find I get the most out of reading when I assume I am quite ignorant. There are only a handful of good books which have not required me to reference a dictionary, google, or thesaurus for enlightenment. I much prefer an author to reference history than so many modern authors who assume I am a chef, music buff, highly sophisticated and/or bilingual. Thus far, Fforde has not made any assumptions unfairly.

Maybe your expectations were not properly set? I am expecting some well intended nonsense, whether it be silly names, silly characters, or some Alice-in-Wonderland-kind-of-moments...

It's a fun idea. I think it will challenge my literary sense and go over my head at some points, but I'm looking forward to how it's carried out.

message 17: by Danielle (last edited Sep 28, 2009 07:33PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Danielle Mirian,
I feel inclined to respond to your comment, since it was stated rationally and fairly.
Let me begin by saying that if I had had any idea of the indignation my review would cause, I would have taken the time to fine tune my rhetoric. I think what it boils down to, though, is a matter of taste. I don't particularly enjoy fantasies or mysteries, and I don't go in much for intended nonsense. Although, I felt it was more the execution than the premise that was lacking. That is not to say that anyone who enjoyed this book is necessarily obtuse, just that it really wasn't my thing.
As for the fine literature vs. playful romp debate, let me state unequivocally that I understand The Eyre Affair was not aspiring to be a literary masterpiece. I know the two weren't meant for comparison. My point is that when Jane Eyre is so continuously held before you, you can't help but compare them. McDonald's isn't competing in the same market as Ruth's Chris, but if you eat at both places on the same day, you're going to notice the difference, and you're probably going to think to yourself, "Why am I wasting my time on McDonald's?" For me, I'd (usually) rather read something great than mere lighthearted fun.

message 18: by Emily (new) - rated it 1 star

Emily Danielle---Thanks for this great review. I couldn't stand this book, but unfortunately I did go ahead and finish it. The writing was so poor and the characters completely flat. I felt like his use of Jane Eyre was just a way of cashing in on an established name---the way there are so many books out there that put Jane Austen, or her books, in their title. It's cheap way of elevating his own book---which I wouldn't have minded half so much if it had been good! So many people like this book, whose taste I respect, that I kept reading, waiting for it to all of a sudden be terrific. And it never was. Maybe if this book weren't marketed as a book for book lovers, I could be more forgiving...but as someone who loves to read and loves the classics, this just felt like a cheap insult.

Danielle Word, Emily.

message 20: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Just wanted to let you know that your review & the debate that ensued have made me want to read the book to find out for myself. I know you think it's a waste of time, but I guess I'm just too curious for my own good :)

message 21: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Asanuma I came across your review while on a curiosity, firstly to see who of my connections had read it, and then to see what would drive someone to leave a one-star review here. I read this book years ago and loved it wholly, just as a precursor. I can understand that Fforde's style won't appeal to all as it does to me personally—I'm all for the malarkey and a fan of absurdist humor in general, having been big on British humor since I was a kid. I'm flabbergasted at some of your reasoning, though.

You mention the Crimean War, and not knowing what really happened there... but isn't it enough to know that in real life the war has been over for more than a century and a half? Or, if you're less familiar with history, for a REALLY long time. As to her name, the whole book is meant to be taken on the sly, why should her name be any different?

I'm not for or against time travelers, per se, but I will say that Fforde handles them carefully, as he does everything, and that the later novels depend a bit on the time-traveling ability.

What bothers me mainly is your argument that just because Fforde did something Brontë did, Brontë must have done it "a million times more skillfully," as you say. That's like saying that Jane Austen never wrote a poor line of prose. I love Austen death, but no one can argue that she didn't let Sense & Sensibility and a few of the other novels fizzle out at the end. More to my point, though, while I'm not arguing that Fforde's use of the mirror isn't contrived (it certainly is), I have to say that Brontë's is equally contrived. The last time I read the book, in fact, the scene made me stop for a moment. And that's being said as someone who has called Jane Eyre their favorite book since they were twelve, and has read it many times.

I feel entirely differently to Emily above about the book simply "cashing in on an established name." Firstly, in a world entirely focused on fiction, how could it not lean on previous works? And more than that, I have to say that where Rochester is concerned in this novel, he WAS Rochester. I'm very picky about Rochester... I've never seen a movie adaptation that's managed to convey his complexity, from his sweetness and vulnerability to his utterly black humors, but Fforde handled his character with fanboy-authenticity.

I agree that Fforde made some "rookie mistakes" in The Eyre Affair, including his slightly wandering POV, but as a writer, I'm impressed by what he set out to do and how well he managed, in a virtually original genre (I say virtually because I watched Gumbi as a kid). I think that the finished book, as well as the series as a whole, serves the purpose he was aiming for extremely well. He makes no claim to be a great writer, just a great reader, and an extreme lover of books, and again, as a writer, the "rookie mistakes" he does make aren't the type to turn me off an author, personally. Writing is something that continues to improve over life and experience, and ignoring an author entirely because their first attempt wasn't perfect is ridiculous—again using Austen, that's like judging her entire worth by Northanger Abbey alone, a book which, coincidentally, is very close in snark-level to The Eyre Affair.

I'll admit that my fondness for him is part Britophilia, part Bibliogeek and part outright fondness, because when I'm reading Jasper I always feel like I'm reading the clever babblings of a much-better-read-than-me friend who happens to share a lot of my reading loves. The books do get better, in my opinion, though, and I'm impressed by the depth of the world inside and behind-the-scenes of fiction that Fforde has created.

On a sidenote, in one of your comments, you wrote: "I guess I shouldn't have been expecting anything I good writer would do from Fforde" Out of curiosity, why do you say this? Did you have prior experience with him or his writing?

Sorry if my words came out as an attack... they truly weren't meant to be. Part of the reason your review caught my eye is because it called to mind vehemently negative reviews I've given myself at times, which interested me, as did your background and our compared books (Jane Eyre, for example, is the only book we've both given 5 stars to other than the Book of Mormon, which I thought was interesting.) Anyhoo. Really I just had to get all of that out.

message 22: by Naz (new)

Naz Couldn't agree with you more. It was seriously a chore to finish this book and I persisted because I couldn't remember the last time I hadn't finished reading a book. What a waste of time!

message 23: by Arlo (new)

Arlo hahaha

message 24: by [deleted user] (new)

I absolutely agree with Lisa's comment.

And I feel very strongly about your #1 argument. I'm neither English nor a recipient of a classical education but I didn't find it difficult at all to tell the differences between the Nextian world and ours. I would never expect an author to dumb down and/or include footnotes to help readers understand the context of each and every reference made. In fact, as a 14-year old, I enjoyed the challenge of finding out why exactly people were waiting for Godot and why Braxton Hicks had an extra funny name, etc.

Still don't understand why people seem to hate Jasper Fforde's character names. I'd like to read their opinions on Charles Dickens'. :))

Sonofhermesdude There are some interesting points in your review ( although I dot agree with them all) I do have one comment-what exactly is wrong with the father? Not sure if its just a typo, but there is no explanation for him.

Marcie Ah, I have to , although certainly respectfully, disagree with your criticism. The elements of this book are classic British humor, akin to British sitcoms like Absolutely Fabulous or this one about kinky senior citizens that make sex jokes every chance they get whose title won't crawl out of the black hole in my brain. It's not the best story-telling but there is merit in it, especially if you just need a cathartic laugh. It's meant to be silly, and this story is a satire. It's like if snl wrote a book, or if Neil Gaiman wanted to be both light-hearted and not as creepy as usual. Then again, theres no accounting for taste, so to each their own. I never read a book based on other people's reviews though.

message 27: by Jax (new) - added it

Jax thanks for this review, since you think Jane Eyre is a brilliant read and i totally disagree (i think the book is complete trash) then I should (possibly) like The Eyre Affair. hooray!

Sharon Great review as 5 years later we are still reading and digesting it. I started with some YA Fforde and stumbled in to this. It was a good introduction to his style. I really did enjoy Thursday and even the visits from Rochester. I have felt similarly about books chosen for book clubs. Something about being assigned reading still doesn't sit we'll with me even after all these years. In any event I recommend The Last Dragonslayer if you ever feel the need to give Fford another chance. Just don't try to compare it to Harry Potter or I fear we will be discussing that as well another five years hence...

message 29: by Norma (new) - rated it 1 star

Norma I am seriously struggling with this book. I'm only on page 36 and I am finding it a load of wittering nonsense. I'm glad I am not the only one that didn't like this book. I don't mind books that are a bit off the wall but this is not holding my attention at all. I'm not going to bother finishing this even though it is what was chosen for the bookclub. It is such a waste of time reading books that you don't enjoy.

Katherine I think anyone who can say they do not like any jasper Fforde book is an unintelligent idiot who can't appreciate the sheer knowledge this man must have stored in his head to create such original quick wit.. His theory of bananas.. Pure joy

message 31: by Mat (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mat Scalpello Ok, so you didn't like the book. But point 1 - really? Did you get cross with Charlotte Bronte for not telling where Thornfield Hall is in relation to London (England)? I accept this is a book best appreciated by the English but this should not be a reason to trash the book it has to be set somewhere!

message 32: by DavidO (new)

DavidO She seriously pulls out a mirror? I think I jsut died reading that.

Hannah Wilkinson Forgive me, I didn't read all the comments. I just wanted to say that the further you get, the more the character reveals she is a piece of fiction. It isn't meant to be believable at all, and that's some of the fun. It's a cheeky scifi.

message 34: by Donovan (new)

Donovan Danielle, it sounds like you walked into the wrong store, so to speak, in even approaching this book. I completely understand where you're coming from, as I feel venomously about Stephenie Meyer (another day). Some authors just inspire anger. I don't feel Fforde is one of those. That said, I also don't feel that four chapters qualifies you to holistically (and so severely) judge a work or its author (assuming this is the only book you have "read" by him). I am in an exact scenario with an unrelated book that I'm not super excited to be reading, and whose point completely alludes me. But I'm not going to write a scathing review without finishing it-how can you say for sure it sucks? If I don't finish it, I'll give it a shrug and philosophize about what the author intended (still not sure). As I will approach my Stephenie Meyer review, I can at least say I read the two first books in their entirety and have a very good sense of her "writing." But to each his or her own.

message 35: by Barbara (new)

Barbara Gordon I gave up on this book even earlier than you, I think. All these people saying 'fun romp', 'light-hearted', and hey, I love literary and pop-culture allusions (One of the Man from UNCLE paperbacks actually does this really nicely and unobtrusively). So I picked it up. And this giggly light-hearted romp starts out with the interrogation of a woman obviously suffering from PTSD after a serious personal tragedy and trauma.
I don't even care how much fun it gets to be after that. I was done.

message 36: by Norma (new) - rated it 1 star

Norma Becky wrote: "Just randomly popping in to record my amusement that you stopped reading this book at exactly the same point as I did for exactly the same reason."

Danielle, I wouldn't worry about negative responses. If we all liked the same books it would be a very boring world. I think we should free to express our opinions as to whether we like a book or not. I quite like oddball books but I really couldn't get into this. I am not unintelligent or ignorant as one negative response to your review stated on anyone who didn't like this book. If I am not sure of a book I am about to buy, I will have a look at some of the reviews on Goodreads to help me make my mind up. Never mind the trolls. Happy reading.

message 37: by Melissa (new) - added it

Melissa Cimafranca I couldn't finish this book either - such a shame because I truly enjoy his other works.

message 38: by Anna (new) - rated it 5 stars

Anna I found this review fascinating. Disclaimer: I know this book is not everyone's cup of tea, but I hope people won't write it off based only on this extremely emotional review.

I first read this book at age 12, with minimal knowledge of UK history and never having read Jane Eyre. For whatever reason, I loved it even though a great deal of it flew right over my head. My appreciation grew exponentially after reading and loving Jane Eyre; finally, it all made sense! I've read it so many times that I've had to buy two more copies, it never gets old.

I think a "British" sense of humor/appreciation (Monty Python, Doctor Who, etc) increases the chances of enjoying the book. You also have to either be able to fill in informational gaps with whatever gets you through the plot, or be willing to put the book down for a minute to look up an event or novel (with Google, it literally takes just a minute). I love Fforde's writing because it is so absurd, I think he is as far from "taking oneself too seriously" as you can get.

If you're on the fence after reading the review above, I hope you'll give it a chance! If it fills you with venom... just stop reading! No harm, no foul. I know I'm overly attached to this book, like a mom blinded by her baby's beauty while some just see a pink, wrinkly, peanut; but I just WANT TO SPREAD THE EXCESSIVE HAPPINESS THIS SERIES GIVES ME!!!

message 39: by Barbara (new)

Barbara Gordon Anna wrote: "I found this review fascinating. Disclaimer: I know this book is not everyone's cup of tea, but I hope people won't write it off based only on this extremely emotional review.

I first read this bo..."

Hi Anna, I just wanted to ask - how did you get past the miserable and traumatised opening of this story to find the light-hearted rompish parts that were promised? I didn't have the stamina, but obviously many readers either are stronger than me or don't find the PTSD aspect so depressing to read through. Basically, at what point did the book begin to make you happy?

I don't think my lack of enjoyment is due to the 'British humour' aspect because I grew up reading UK children's books and watching British TV, and enjoy Monty Python, Hitchhikers' Guide, Terry Pratchett and Tom Holt among others. (If anything, I'm less likely to 'get' American humour.)

Apologies to Danielle if this is hijacking the thread, and I'll delete if asked.

message 40: by Ray (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ray Litt It's a fantastic book. Not for everyone, but I promise, danielle: you couldn't write it with your eyes closed. Leaving scathing reviews on someone's work is terrible business. Put your efforts toward something worthwhile and go write that perfect book with your eyes closed. Good luck.

Sinead Young So, when I had to trawl through Gone with the Wind, aged 12, so very much pre-Internet...I should have thrown in the towel because the dumb author didn't explain the the American Civil War for me!? I looked it up in an encyclopedia. I cannot count the number if books and films made by Americans where it is just assumed Europeans will know what is going on. Welcome to the rest of the world.

Karen Canady This review is more entertaining than the book! I laughed so hard! You must be a writer yourself!

message 43: by Sarah (new)

Sarah I applaud you for making it to chapter 4! I couldn't make it past page 13!

message 44: by Oscar (new) - rated it 1 star

Oscar i liked this book actually

message 45: by Wayne (new)

Wayne This sounds so much like something a clueless woman would say

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